Black lives matter in Petaluma

We must call upon vast reserves of empathy to heal this fractured country.|

A classic quote from black activist Martin Luther King Jr. is “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere.” His words are used only as a remembrance of his advocacy for compassion and forgiveness that makes him palatable to white guilt. The predominantly white community of Petaluma must embody this statement.

I have lived in Petaluma for two years, a different space than my predominantly brown and black upbringing and education. I have adjusted. I started playing the “Spotting Game,” to see how many black or brown people I can spot in Petaluma, usually fewer than the fingers on my hand. I have also experienced similarities: the people are welcoming, kind, and care deeply for their loved ones.

I attended the downtown protests this Sunday and I got a high score in my Spotting Game, which confirmed my expectation of seeing solidarity by other people of color. I was also pleasantly surprised to see the protest was still representative of our racial demographics, that is, predominantly white. (According to the most recent census Petaluma is 80% white, 18% Latinx, and 2% black, indigenous, and other people of color.)

If you are white, I invite you to explore your reactions to the riots throughout our country. Think about how your opinions indicate your conscious and unconscious racism. Do you believe the riots cancel out the protesters’ right to be heard and treated humanely? If so, who are you, in your whiteness, to determine what is “the best way” for black people to express their own lived experience while never having experienced any moment of the spectrum of black life?

If you are more outraged by the property damage than the continuous black trauma, then your issue isn’t the safety of humanity but the safety and security of your whiteness.

Race is the crux of this problem. Racism and anti-blackness were embedded in the founding this country through the enslavement of black people, the genocide of First Nation people, and colonization of indigenous lands. Our nation continues to be oppressed by police brutality that can be explained by racism and creates state-sanctioned excusable deaths of black community members.

We must acknowledge this to fully honor the lives of those murdered by policing like black man George Floyd, black woman Breonna Taylor, black trans-man Tony McDade, black trans-woman Marsha P. Johnson, and black children Trayvon Martin and Aiyana Jones.

We are a predominantly white and financially affluent town. Due to racial and class privilege, our Petaluma community could be at risk of making MLK a liar. Petaluma’s race and class privilege can actually allow us to exist in our own confined, “just” space while injustices are happening elsewhere.

We must put black lives in the forefront of all our social justice issues because racial injustice is at the root of America’s unsustainable society. Black people have been one of the most culturally and politically extracted groups, thus one of the most indebted by this country.

If we don’t begin reparations to our most indebted, then how do we expect any systematic change to other oppressed identities? To address other social justice issues first is a symptomatic approach instead of a diagnostic treatment. So when you engage in other related social justice work, think about how you are engaging in reparations to that debt.

Self-educate in terms of white-privilege, allyship, and abolition. Level two of my “Spotting Game” is to see whose whiteness I disrupt by simply existing in my brownness. Sunday’s protest was a disruption to whiteness.

Though the response was mainly positive, I saw about a dozen white people not honk in encouragement, but instead shake their disappointed heads, flip a finger, and a car passing a couple of times with a Trump flag as a flex of white supremacy. This was a protest against anti-blackness, therefore to protest our protest means you were for anti-blackness and white supremacy, as Trump has shown himself to be.

As you un-learn racist and anti-black practices, continue to have a conversations with others similarly privileged and white because the protests showed that there are some who believe in “white power” as a white man on a motorcycle yelled. These conversations include young people.

If you feel some friction with that last idea, remind yourself of the reality that the innocence of black children is substantially shorter because of racism and anti-blackness. If you feel uncomfortable at any moment while engaging with this reality, lean into it, because there is no reconciliation without acknowledgment.

(Alba Estrada López is local to Petaluma, Greenfield, and Culiacán, Mexico. She is an immigrant brown woman, educator and environmentalist.)

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